Posts Tagged DIY

Off-Grid Internet: How I Get Wi-Fi In My Tiny House

Off-Grid Internet: How I Get Wi-Fi In My Tiny House

off grid internet for a tiny house or homestead

NAVIGATION

In a world that does so much online these days, having an off grid internet option for my tiny house was a must. My entire job is remote and online, so having off grid Wi-Fi in my tiny house that’s off the grid was a non-negotiable for me. I know many people are wanting to work from home in a tiny house or on a homestead in a rural location, so here’s how I got internet in my tiny house while off the grid.

Estimating Your Data And Speed Requirements

Estimating Your Data And Speed Requirements

A good place to start is to understand what you actually need out of your internet connection. This comes down to a few key numbers:

  • Connection type
  • Download speed
  • Upload Speed
  • Latency
  • Data usage

Connection Type

internet connection type

One the largest determining factors on how fast a connection is, how it performs, and its reliability is what type of connection it is. The list below is in order of how well it will perform, from best to worst.

types of internet connections

FIBER INTERNET: Fastest connection type, uses light through fiber optic.

CABLE INTERNET: Uses cable TV, tops out at 100-300 mbps

DSL INTERNET: Faster than dial up, slower than cable.

SATELLITE INTERNET: Uses a satellite dish. Like DSL but feels slower due to latency.

DAIL-UP INTERNET: Slowest connection. This is basically obsolete.

Off Grid Internet Download Speeds

Off Grid Internet Download Speeds

How fast you can download files is most of what we do when we’re using the internet. In general, you’re going to want at least 2 megabytes per second (mbps) at the very minimum. It’s important to note that many internet companies will sell plans of estimated speed or “up to” speeds, but the daily reality is often much less.

For instance, a cable ISP will sell a plan for a 50 mbps speeds, but you’ll typically see between 5 and 10 mbps at any given time, with the ability to spike higher if you are pulling down larger files.

In general, you’ll want speeds in these ranges for different types of internet usage:

0-5 MBPS 5-40 MBPS 40-100 MBPS 100-500 MBPS 500-1000+ MBPS
Checking Email Streaming video Streaming HD Streaming UHD All Uses
Streaming music Video calling Online gaming Fast Downloads
Web Surfing Simple Gaming Large Downloads Best For Gaming

Off Grid Internet Upload Speeds

Off Grid Internet Upload Speeds

Uploading speeds are often an overlooked metric and if you’re a professional that needs to move large files up into the cloud, push something to a server, or other work with large files, you’re going to want to pay attention to this.

If you’re a casual user that will do some web surfing and sending emails, an upload speed of 2-4 mbps for attaching small files to the internet and other upload tasks is sufficient. If you’re going to do any online gaming, you’ll want 5+ mbps (with a very low latency). Finally, if you’re a creative professional that needs to move large files, 5+ mbps is good, but you want as much as you can get.

Latency With Off Grid Internet Solutions

Latency With Off Grid Internet Solutions

This gets a bit into the technical side that most don’t concern themselves with, but latency is a measure of how much time it takes for your computer to send signals to a server and then receive a response back. You ideally want this to be as low as possible, but it can never be zero.

Anything under 100 milliseconds (ms) is considered “acceptable,” but you generally want to have it be somewhere between 20 and 40 ms, particularly for gaming or video calls.

Data Usage While Living Off The Grid

Data Usage While Living Off The Grid

Data usage is just how much data you use, often measured in megabytes (mb) or gigabytes (gb). When I do my daily work, I’m most often surfing the web, writing emails, or using web-based apps. Very little of my day-to-day work involves video—I either use phone calls or voice-only Zoom or Skype calls.

For that kind of work, 2-3 gigs per month is more than enough for my use. When I get into streaming videos, like watching YouTube or Netflix, my data usage balloons to a lot more.

Netflix Hulu Disney+ Amazon Youtube
Low 0.3 .65 0.7 0.8 0.3
SD 0.7 1.3 1.3 1.4 0.5
HD 3.0 2.7 2.0 2.0 1.5
UHD 7.0 7.2 7.7 6.0 3.0

All numbers are Gigabytes per hour.

Off Grid Internet Options

Off Grid Internet Options

In a world that does so much online these days, having an off grid internet option for my tiny house was a must.

When I moved off grid for the first time close to a decade ago, the land I was on was pretty close to the city. But because of the size of the land, local internet service providers wouldn’t run cable internet out to me. I’ve since moved out to the country and getting internet on rural land is even more difficult.

Rural Internet Service Providers

Rural Internet Service Providers

The good news is that there are quite a few initiatives connecting rural communities to internet because it can open up so much economic opportunity for working remotely, online education, and much more. In a weird twist of fate, it looks like my town in the mountains will get fiber internet before I could get it in the big city, because if a municipality is going to install internet infrastructure, it’s almost the same cost to put in fiber vs cable or DSL.

I wanted to start here because I think it’s important to bring some attention to the fact that the US Government makes funds available to rural communities for internet infrastructure build outs. In many cases, a town can apply to start their own internet service as a utility. These programs have seen a lot of success for towns that decide to pursue it. If your local government hasn’t already pursued this, take some time to discuss it with your elected officials.

Projects like this can take years to come to fruition, but you can start the process and shape the future of your town while relying on some of the below options for off grid Wi-Fi.

Starlink – Elon Musk’s Satellite Internet

Starlink satellite internet

150+ MBPS download 25+ MBPS upload 20-40 ms latency $99 per month

We are about to enter a golden age of off grid internet connectivity, and with recent COVID concerns, we are finding more and more employers are allowing people to work remotely. Elon Musk’s Starlink Satellite Internet is a major step forward to that end.

At the time of writing this, there are 485,000 concurrent users of Starlink and the initial real-world tests are very impressive considering there are only 1,000 satellites of the 12,000 satellites planned to be placed in orbit. People are consistently getting over 100 megabytes per second while downloading and at least 25 megabytes per second in upload speeds. Those numbers are not company reported, but what actual end users are seeing during their daily use.

pro tipStarlink’s dish uses a small heater to keep snow and ice off the face. The heater and dish can use about 150 watts maximum, with an average power of 100 watts continuous when it’s cold out. If you’re living on solar with battery backup, you’ll want an extra 366 amp / hour in your batteries to cover this.

Starlink’s dish uses a small heater to keep snow and ice off the face. The heater and dish can use about 150 watts maximum, with an average power of 100 watts continuous when it’s cold out. If you’re living on solar with battery backup, you’ll want an extra 366 amp / hour in your batteries to cover this.

This is all possible because Musk owns not only the satellites, but the rockets to deploy them en masse as well. And because of his reusable boosters, he can deliver those satellites for 10% of the cost of other competitors.

From talking with people about their Starlink experience, I’ve only heard resounding praise from people. They note that it was pretty easy to setup, connection was done via their phone, and their internet is very fast. The service charges a $499 setup fee which includes all your hardware, then $99 a month from there.

At this time, there isn’t any data cap, which will be something I’d watch closely for in the future. While fast speeds are key, having data limits would be a major blow to what might otherwise be the perfect solution.

Project Kuiper – Amazon’s Satellite Internet

Amazon Satellite Internet

150+ MBPS download 25+ MBPS upload 20-40 ms latency TBD per month

I wanted to include this so people are aware of this option in the future and I’ll update it as more info becomes available. While details are very sparce now, we expect that Jeff Bezos’ satellite internet provider will be pretty similar in performance and specs to Starlink with one major exception.

Right now, they are aiming for around 3,336 satellites, which is about 65% less that what Starlink will have. At this point I’m speculating, but I’d assume that they’re going to first focus on the US regions and China, and then later Europe and South America. They may back off of China given that their government is already making statements against these options as it would allow citizens to have internet access outside the Chinese government’s control.

At some point, it becomes a math problem of too many people per satellite, but what it will do is bring competition to the satellite internet space. That usually is a good thing for us as the consumer.

Cell Phone Hot Spots – Verizon, AT&T, T Mobile, Sprint

Cell Phone Hot Spots

15+ MBPS download 2+ MBPS upload 50-70 ms latency $40-$60 for 5 GB per month

The next most practical manner I’ve found is hot spotting using my cell phone. Right now, I have a 15-gig limit on my cell phone hot spot through Verizon. When combined with my unlimited internet on my phone plus calls and texts, it costs me $85 per month.

The one major downside that I find is that the signal disconnects from my computer every so often, so I have to reset it. This isn’t a huge deal, but it’s not like the “always on” connection that we’re used to with other traditional sources. I find that if I stop using my computer and it goes into sleep mode or isn’t active for a while, I have to reset it.

The biggest downside to this frequent disconnection is that I can’t use it with security cameras, on an Amazon Alexa or Google Home, or to monitor my solar power with my array data tracking interface. All of these applications will work at first, but at some point, something will trigger it to disconnect and unless you’re there in person to re-initialize it, you’re stuck.

This was a major road block when I wanted to set up some remote cameras on my land to monitor things while I wasn’t there. The internet connection would inevitably reset and I’d lose my video feed without being physically present to fix it.

pro tipWhen searching for rural land, bring along pre-paid sim cards for the different cell phone carriers. When you’re actually on the land you’re considering, take the time to test each carrier on that specific parcel where you think your house will be located.

By in large, I’ve found that Verizon is most expensive, but is often the most reliable and widely accessible. There have been a few times when another network could connect better, but I’ve found from practical experience that Verizon is the best in most circumstances.

Accessing internet through your cell phone has a few major downsides. In most cases, the speeds are adequate, except for video conference calls. I’ve found that when watching Netflix on Verizon, I can watch about 20 hours per month on my hot spot with the 15 gig per month plan. Keep in mind that general surfing and email uses very little data, and if I was just doing that, 2 gigs per month would be all I’d need.

One thing I’ve been doing lately is occasionally going to a coffee shop to work for the day as a change of scenery, and while I’m there, I’ll take advantage of the download feature that Netflix and other services offer This lets me download a few episodes or a movie or two to my device, then later watch them without using any bandwidth. I’ve found this to be a really great way to keep data usage low while still watching the shows I love.

fastest mobile networks in 2020

Other Hot Spots – Karma, Skyroam, etc.

internet hot spots

15+ MBPS download 2+ MBPS upload 50-75 ms latency $50-$70 for 5 GB per month

There is a whole host of third-party companies that make hot spots that either can be used with a major cell phone carrier or on their own network. In general, I have found these to be pretty lack luster. I’ve personally used the Karma hot spot and it was just okay.

In my experience, it’s better to go straight to the sourcewith a major cell phone provider, because third party device makers have to use their signals anyway. There aren’t any features of these third parties that make them stand out from the major carrier’s devices.

Fixed Point To Point Internet

Fixed Point To Point Internet

5+ MBPS download 2+ MBPS upload 20-45 MS latency $75+ per month

There are some cases where an internet provider offers fixed point to point internet service where they have a tower with an antenna on it. If you have a line of sight to their tower, you can usually get internet. I’ve done this with a business I used to run as our backup internet and it worked phenomenally.

pro tipTalk with your local point to point internet provider, as they usually are a smaller mom-and-pop operation that can let you know if you’d be able to connect to their service before you buy any land. You may have to mount the antenna on a tower.

Your speeds will depend on your plan, but in general if you have line of sight, you’ll have a decent connection. If you do a lot of video calls or gaming, this can be a tad slow in terms of latency, but overall this is a great option.

These services tend to have an upfront cost to get connected and for equipment (and possibly the cost of a small tower on your land), and the service will be about $10-$50 more a month than your standard cable provider, but all in all, this is a decent option.

DSL Internet

DSL Internet

1+ MBPS download 500+ KBS upload 20-45 MS latency $50 per month

One possibility in some areas that have a phone connection is DSL, which runs on a wire that looks like a phone cord, but is technically different. This option isn’t great, but it is definitely better than nothing and has the advantage of being more stable than a hot spot connection.

The downside is that it’s much slower than any of the other wired connections. However, if you want to have a remote camera or monitoring for your solar while you’re away (some monitors are also all cloud based), DSL can provide the stability you need. This type of connection is usually pretty affordable and fast enough for basic surfing and emailing.

Hughesnet Satellite Internet

Hughesnet Satellite Internet

2+ MBPS download 200+ KBS upload 100+ MS latency $60 for 10GB per month

Let me make this simple. Don’t use this. I’ve talked to so many people personally who’ve used this and, across the board, said it was one of the worst experiences of their lives. Slow to no connection speeds, spotty, difficult to use, and frustrating customer service.

The data caps seem pretty generous on the surface, but their measurement methodology skews it in their favor and you’ll burn through that very quickly without doing much online. In general, anything with video or gaming is out of the question using Hughesnet Satellite internet. Between the data caps and high latency, this is a non-starter for everyone.

The service also comes with a multi-year contract that they hold people to as a way to lock them in. They know how bad their service is and if it weren’t for the contracts, people would leave.

For more information, read this reddit thread from a former Hughesnet employee, it is very eye opening.

Cell Phone Extenders And Repeaters

Cell Phone Extenders And Repeaters

Many off grid people look to cell phone extenders to get a better signal in their house. It can be the case that outside your home you’ll get okay cell reception, but the second you step inside, your cell phone signal is awful.

People who live in metal-clad houses or barndominiums will frequently have this issue because the metal sheeting on the outside blocks the signal. If you do live in one of these houses and have a good internet connection, a lot of modern cell phones can use Wi-Fi to make the calls instead of a cell phone signal.

That said, I’ve personally tried one cell repeater and it was a very frustrating experience, especially considering that I’m a very tech savvy guy. Talking with others, I have yet to hear of anyone using any of the available options that could get one to work well. In most cases, people couldn’t get the extender at all, and those who did found it to perform so poorly it wasn’t worth it.

Making Sure Your Location Can Get Internet

Making Sure Your Location Can Get Internet

The last point I want to make is a big one: a word of caution. Getting internet is so critical to today’s world that it can be hard to imagine that you might not have a connection. I am all about living a simple life, disconnecting from social media, and living life on your own terms, but I also need to square that with the reality of needing a connection.

I love living simply and I want to make sure that technology is working for me and not the other way around. If you’re looking at living somewhere, buying some remote property, or just setting up on some land without an existing internet connection, proceed with caution.

If you call your local ISP, they may very well say that you’re in their service area, but then later on when you go to set up service tell you they can’t do it. It’s a story I’ve heard many times. If I were to do it all again, I would purchase land and have in the offer letter a contingency that the sale is canceled if internet can’t be established.

In my due diligence stage of buying land, I’d actually have them run the internet connection and power lines out to the site and plug in on the land itself and do a speed test. This may seem extreme and is most certainly unorthodox, but in a world that revolves around internet connectivity, it’s so crucial.

Having access to a high-quality internet connection while living off the grid or in a tiny house enables you to get a big city job that pays well while giving you the low cost and slow pace of the country life. It’s a major tool to you earning a good living and staying connected.

Your Turn!

  • How do you connect to the internet while off grid or in a tiny house?

Tiny House Tools – What I Used To Build My Tiny House

Tiny House Tools – What I Used To Build My Tiny House

Tiny House Tools

ryan tiny house and the tools he used to build itHi, I’m Ryan
I’m often asked about what tiny house tools I used to build my tiny home. Having helped build over 3,000 tiny houses, I’ve learned a few things about what tools you really need and what you don’t. There are some places where you can save money on tools and others where you want to buy the best you can afford.

So, what tools do you need to build a tiny house?


Hand Tool Recommendations For Building A Tiny House

Hand Tool Recommendations For Building A Tiny House

It’s funny how some tools greatly benefit from being powered while other hold their own despite being dead simple. There are a few hands tools that do just that — they get the job done.

Hammer: Estwing E3-16S Hammer

Estwing E3-16S Hammer

There are small cult followings around which hammer brand is the best: Eastwing, Martinez, Craftsman, Irwin. My recommendation is to look for a solid metal or composite handle that feels good in your hands and is around 16 oz. These are pretty commoditized so prices are all affordable. Expect to spend $20 to $40 on a hammer. For that price you’re striking (ha!) a nice balance of good quality without overspending.

The Eastwing E3-16S Hammer sits in the sweet spot of good value and decent quality. For around $25, you can have a good hammer that will serve you well, get the job done, and not cost a whole lot.


Ryan’s Hammer Recommendation:

Vice Grip Pliers: Irwin Locking Grip Vice Grips Set

Irwin Locking Grip Vice Grips Set

Vice grips are my all-time favorite tool. If Ductape and WD-40 are universal go-to tools, vice grips are right behind them. If you’re not familiar, they are essentially pliers that have a cam in them that locks down the jaws to hold the item tightly. You can lock it down and let it go and it will still hold fast.

I’d suggest going with the original brand, which is Irwin, and have at least a large curved jaw and a small curved jaw. These came in handy so many times when building my tiny house, let me tell you.


Ryan’s Vice Grip Recommendation:

Screw Drivers: Craftsman Screwdriver Set

Craftsman Screwdriver Set

Really any name brand will do here. You’ll want a smaller and larger version of both phillips head and flathead. Get something that seems pretty sturdy, feels good in your hand, and isn’t part of some large set. You’re shooting for something that isn’t the cheapest, but one step up. Some of the cheaper sets out there will be made of very low-quality metal and only lead to stripping your screw heads.


Ryan’s Screwdriver Recommendation:

how to build a tiny house

Box Cutter: Metal Body Box Cutter

Metal Body Box Cutter

My suggestion is to look for something that you can change the blade on, has a retractable blade, and has an all metal body. For $5 you can get a decent one, so I’d suggest whatever looks good to you. You may want to consider having a few of these lying around — they’re often sold in multi-packs.

Make sure to pick up some replacement blades.


Ryan’s Box Cutter Recommendation:

Wire Pliers

Wire Pliers

These specialized pliers were something that I didn’t initially think I needed, but as soon as I got into wiring my tiny house I realized my regular pliers weren’t going to cut it. I picked up a pair of purpose built electricians pliers and twisting and stripping wires went much faster.


Ryan’s Pliers Recommendation:

Hand Chisel

hand chisel

These were things that I didn’t use often, but the few times I needed them they were super helpful. I’d get a small set of these for the few times you’ll need to notch out a board, clean up a joint etc.


Ryan’s Hand Chisel Recommendation:

Pry Bar: Estwing 21 Inch Nail Puller

Estwing 21 Inch Nail Puller

There just comes a time when you need to tear something out. You’re most likely a brand new builder, so mistakes happen. This pry bar plus a Sawzall are the solutions to those mistakes more often than not. You really can get any nail puller. It’s just a strong piece of metal that let’s you lever out nails and pull apart boards.


Ryan’s Pry Bar Recommendation:

Pex Water Line Cutters: SharkBite U701 PEX Cutting Tool

SharkBite U701 PEX Cutting Tool

Plumbing often comes with some specialty tools, but using quick fit connectors in your PEX will avoid most of that. The cutters are really important to make sure you cut your PEX cleanly so they seat properly into your fittings. For only $13, you can have a great cutter that will make quick work of your PEX lines.


Ryan’s Pex Cutters Recommendation:


tiny house plumbing

Power Tool Recommendations For Tiny Home Construction

Power Tool Recommendations For Tiny Home Construction

Having the right power tools is critical to getting the job done. A good set will let you make more accurate cuts, prevent your arm from getting tired, and make quick work of things when it comes to building your tiny home.

Impact Driver

Impact Driver

If you’ve never used an impact driver before, let me introduce you to your new best friend. Next to my miter saw, my impact driver was the one power tool I reached for more times than I can count.

If you’ve only used a drill before, an impact driver is similar, but with a lot more torque. A normal drill will have around 400 foot pounds of torque while an impact driver will have around 2,000 foot pounds of torque.

Impact Driver bitsSo what does that even mean? It means that you can drive in screws without pre-drilling holes and you can drive in much larger, structural screws that replace the need for large lag bolts. I’ve been able to drive home 10” high shear screws without any fuss, whereas a normal drill wouldn’t be able to get them an inch in.

Why does this matter? Because with this one tool alone, you’ll cut out the need for pre drilling in all your rough carpentry, meaning 50% less operations. When we’re talking about build a whole house, 50% less operations is a big deal!

My suggestion here is to buy brand new, have at least three batteries, and buy a major brand name. This is a place you want to splurge because you’ll be using this all day, every day. These are often sold as a combo pack with a drill, charger, and two batteries which will get you setup nicely. Plan on spending $200 to $400, and instead of getting the cheapest tiers/price points, I’d suggest buying one or two steps up.

You’ll hear people be dogmatic about their brand, but if you buy DeWalt, Milwaukee, or Makita, you really can’t go wrong. It’s often best to stick within one brand for battery-powered tools so you can share your batteries among them.


Ryan’s Driver Recommendation:

Battery Powered Drill

cordless drill

A drill is another really great power tool to have. Like I said above, you’ll be using your impact driver a lot, but a drill comes in handy for drilling holes, which you’ll later sink a screw into with your impact driver.

Drills also have a smoother, more consistent spin to them, making drilling holes with a bit much easier. Think of a drill as the tool for drilling holes into wood, while impact drivers are used exclusively for driving screws into wood.

Having two tools — a drill and an impact driver — means you can pre-drill a hole when needed and then without changing bits, drive the screw in. This will speed your work up a lot and is just plain convenient.

My suggestion is to figure out what impact driver you want, then look for a combo kit that includes both the impact driver and drill. The drill included will be pretty evenly matched in quality and the kit should include both tools, a bag/case, a charger, and often two batteries.


Ryan’s Drill Recommendation:

Power Tool Batteries and Chargers

cordless drill batteries

Extra power tool batteries are usually pretty expensive, but having a good battery is key. When it comes to NiCad vs. Lithium Ion, Lithium Ion is the way to go for weight, performance and it’s ability to hold a charge. There are many brands with cult followings, but any of the major brands will suit your needs. If you don’t know, these batteries use a proprietary connector, so you’ll have to use the same brand of batteries that your power tools are.

The cheapest way to get batteries is when you buy them as part of a kit. I will often figure out what tool I want, then go find it in a combo. Tools sold as a “bare tool” or in these combos typically include a case and extra batteries.

My suggestion is to have three batteries between your drill and impact driver. This allows you to have a battery in each tool and a third on the charger at all times. Again, this just helps you be efficient in your work. You’ll also make your life easier if all your tools can fit any of your batteries (e.g. the same brand).

For my tiny house build I found that the charger included with the drill and impact driver was enough for my needs. They do sell multi chargers, but I found that if I had one in my drill and the other on the charger I never ran out.

Driver Bits

Driver Bits

While you’re at it, pick up some impact driver bits. These are a little bit higher quality than standard bits because of how much more force is involved. These use a universal connector, so for the bits, any brand will fit in any other brand’s impact driver. If you’d like a suggestion, I’d get a set of 2” long ones for every day (like these 2” impact driver bits) and then a few longer ones (like these 6” bits) to have on hand. I also like to use screws with a Robertson (aka square) drive for less slippage, so if you use those, here is a good option for Robertson driver bits.

The last thing to know is that branded bit sets come in boxes that will neatly store in the tool’s case, so I bought this driver bit set and it fits perfectly.


Ryan’s Driver Bits Recommendation:

tiny house building checklist

Drill Bits

Drill Bits

You’re also going to want to have a set of bits for your drill. Many brands make small kits in a nice case that will cover all your needs. Figure spending around $20 to $40 for these sets.

Any brand of drill bits will fit in any drill, but one think to consider is the boxes they come in. If you buy the same brand as your drill, some of them are designed to fit in their own hard cases. For example, this DeWalt bit set fits perfectly in their hard drill cases. It’s a little thing, but it makes it very convenient to fit two tools with batteries, a charger, and a bit set and driver set all in one box.


Ryan’s Drill Bits Recommendation:

Spade Bits

Spade Bits

If you’ve never seen these before, they allow you to make certain size holes from 1/8th of an inch up to around 2 inches. You should really only use these for rough carpentry because they can be hard to control and result in a rough hole.

That said, they are super useful when it comes to running wires or other smaller hole needs where precision isn’t necessarily the goal. For these, I’d get something with good reviews, but you don’t have to spend a lot for your needs.

This budget spade bit set will cost you about $16 that should suit your needs. For myself, I decided to spend a little bit more for a spade bit set that came in nice hard plastic box. I just find that a storage box keeps things organized a bit better as it jostles around in my toolbox.


Ryan’s Spade Bits Recommendation:

Hole Saws

Hole Saws

These are circular saw bits that cut larger holes with your drill. A spade bit is good for making holes up to about 1.5” to 2”, but beyond that you’ll want to have a hole saw. The main use for these is cutting holes for shower and toilet drains in your floor, your mini split passthrough in your side wall, and vent fan wall connections.

They sell some budget versions that come with a lot of different sizes. I just waited until I had a need for one andbought the size I needed. Lenox is the main name brand, but you don’t need to spend a lot here because you’ll only need to cut a few larger holes during your entire build.


Ryan’s Hole Saw Recommendation:

how much does a tiny house cost

Corded Power Tools You’ll Need To Build A Tiny House

Corded Power Tools You Will Need To Build A Tiny House

There are some power tools that I prefer to have in a corded option. While I often like the convenience of cordless, sometimes a corded version gives you more power, although this has been changed a lot in recent years as battery powered tools can actually be more powerful in some cases.

One area I usually opt for the corded version is with any tool I buy for a very specific, one-time use job. For example, my Sawzall, or reciprocating saw, is corded because I rarely use it and the corded version is about 1/3 the price of its equivalent in power and quality cordless cousin.

Miter Saw

Miter Saw

A miter saw or compound miter saw is one of the tools, next to an impact driver, that you’ll use most during your build. It is incredibly useful during your tiny house build and is one place I suggest you dedicate some of your dollars to splurge on.

You’re going to want to stick with a name brand in a size that can easily cut both a 2×10 board and a 4×4 post in a single cut each. If your saw can cover those two things, you’ll be able to do most cuts easily on the saw. Plan to spend $200 to $500 here on a brand new, high-quality miter saw.

These saws come in three main sizes, is the difference being the size in diameters of the blades they use: 7.5”, 10”, and 12”. The smaller 7.5” is fine for weekend warriors or hobbyist, but is too small for the size of the project that is building a whole house. The 10” saws are ideal for 95% of your cuts, especially if the saw is specified to cut the above size lumber. While it can be tempting to get a 12” miter saw, I think it’s mostly unnecessary.

The area I might consider really splurging is on a sliding miter saw. A miter saw built on a slide allows you to cut wider boards. If I were to buy a sliding saw today, I’d opt for a Bosch glide arm miter saw because it gives you the advantages of a sliding saw without needing a lot of depth. This saves space if you’re building in a shop, and I believe we’ll see more brands come up with their own version in the coming years.


Ryan’s Miter Saw Recommendation:

Table Saw

Table Saw

A table saw is something you could do without, instead using a circular saw. I was able to find a good deal on a table saw one Black Friday that met my needs for cheap. Table saws are really useful for breaking down sheet goods like plywood or OSB.

A table saw will provide you with the ability to make the most accurate cuts on your sheet goods. You can do a lot with a circular saw, but I think you can still rely on a table saw being more accurate. I wouldn’t spend a lot of money here, but entry level saws start at around $300 and go up to around $600.

If I were to build a tiny house again, I think I’d skip a table saw and opt for the next item.


Ryan’s Table Saw Recommendation:

Track Saw

Track Saw

A track saw is essentially a circular saw that slides along a track which makes your cuts way more accurate. If I were to do it again, I’d go with a high-quality track saw cutting on the ground with a piece of foam under the plywood.

Track saws have recently really come into their own. There are several brands that made good quality saws, and prices have also come down recently. The top three saws right now are the Makita SP6000J, the DEWALT DWS520K, and the more expensive Festool TS 55 REQ-F-Plus.

If I were to buy one today, I’d go with the Makita. This saw seems to be a very popular choice that a lot of my woodworking friends have recommended to me. At around $450 with the track, it’s not cheap, but track saws in general are pretty pricey.

The biggest reason I’d suggest this over a table saw is that I find it gives you more control when it comes to cutting sheet goods. I’ve used table saws on and off for 20 years as a hobbyist woodworker, but I still don’t feel 100% comfortable with them, especially with boards being able to get kicked back at me.

A track saw lets you set your track exactly where you need it and stays put. Working on the ground on top of foam makes the wood easy to cut and, because you can stand or kneel on top of the sheet itself, your wood doesn’t move. All this adds up to being able to make very accurate cuts while supporting the piece firmly and mitigating risks like table saw kick back. It does all of this well and is much easier than I find cutting with a table saw.


Ryan’s Track Saw Recommendation:

Circular Saw

Circular Saw

A circular saw is a very practical tool for cutting boards, sheet goods, and more. I don’t use my circular saw much, but when I need it, it is great. I’ve opted for a corded version of this because I don’t use it much and often use it on the ground. A corded version is also less expensive.

The saw I recommend is very popular and pretty affordable: the Dewalt DWE575SB is a great saw that you can’t really go wrong with — and for $139, it’s a great choice. I don’t usually recommend one brand over another, but this one has seemed to attract a lot of high praise even from builders who are usually loyal to other brands.


Ryan’s Circular Saw Recommendation:

Orbital Palm Sander

Orbital Palm Sander

A sander is one of those must-have tools when it comes to finish woodworking. There are a few types of sanders out there, but the orbital style sander is really the only one you’ll need for building a tiny house. There were a fewtimes when I needed to sand away a lot of material quickly, and for that I borrowed someone’s belt sander.

The orbital sander essentially makes a random circular-ish sanding motion. This means you won’t have a sanding pattern show up in the pieces you sand, which is what you want. I’ve used a lot of them, but this Bosch Orbital Sander seems to strike the balance of high quality for a pretty affordable price. I actually have two of these and have used them a lot.

When you buy a sander, pick up a large pack of 80 grit, 120 grit, and 220 grit paper discs with a hole pattern that matches your sander. I’d also recommend corded tools here.


Ryan’s Sander Recommendation:

how to design the perfect tiny house

Router

Router

A router is a tool that will modify wood edges to make them into different profiles. It’s also used to route out channels in wood to slide pieces of plywood in for things like shelves. This is definitely a finish woodworking tool and not entirely necessary, but it is certainly nice to have.


Ryan’s Router Recommendation:

Jig Saw

Jig Saw

This is one of those tools that you won’t need to use a lot, but when you do, it will be the only tool that can do the job. It’s mainly used to cut out curves in plywood, so I’d suggest going with a budget brand here and maybe even considering used.


Ryan’s Jigsaw Recommendation:

Oscillating Saw

Oscillating Saw

Rockwell is the brand to beat in this category of tools. When I first saw these come on the market, I dismissed them as some useless tool that was sold to weekend warriors who had no clue what they were doing with more money than they had sense. Now I’m an unabashed convert and I own this oscillating saw kit for $133.

These tools are great for making square plunge cuts into a face of wood. Outlets are a great example of this. Oscillating saws are one of those tools that can do a few things well, but they aren’t going to replace any other tool in your toolbox. This is very nice to have, but not required.


Ryan’s Recommendation:

Sawzall / Reciprocating Saw

Sawzall Reciprocating Saw

A Sawzall is another one of those tools that shines when you need it. I referred to mine as “the problem solver” — when I made a mistake, it took care of it. These really come in handy when you accidently nail something with a rink shank nail (which are nearly impossible to pull out) and need to cut them out.


Ryan’s Sawzall Recommendation:

Measuring Tools For A Tiny House

Measuring Tools For A Tiny House

Being able to measure and cut accurately is something that seems easy, but to do it consistently is easier said than done. Here are the measuring tools you’ll need for building your tiny house.

Speed Square

Speed Square

A speed square was one of those tools I hadn’t used much before my tiny house build, but which quickly found a place on my toolbelt. I was constantly using it to extend my marks across boards, as a saw guide for straighter cuts, and for rafter cutting.


Speed Square Recommendation:

Combination Square

Combination Square

A combination square does a lot of the same things that a speed square does, but has some other features that make it useful. Because the ruler slides through your shoulder piece, it’s great for measuring depths, setting blade and router bit heights, comparing depths of two cuts, and more.

Its main use is for more complicated joinery in your finish work, but I found myself using it throughout my build process.


Combo Square Recommendation:

Spirit Level

Spirit Level

A level is critical to making sure things line up and stay straight. Make sure you get your tiny house trailer totally level before starting and continuously check it along the way. I’d suggest buying two levels from your local big box store: a 24-inch version and a 6-foot version. Don’t cheap out here — I’d recommend purchasing the best you can find.

Carpenter’s Square

Carpenters Square

A carpenter’s square is for checking right angles. Get a big one so you can quickly check how accurate your 90-degree angles are over more than a few inches. It also makes quick work of putting down cut marks on your sheet goods when you’re breaking them down. I went with a 24” model and that’s what I suggest you get as well.

Carpenter’s Pencil

Carpenters Pencil

This seems like a simple thing, but a carpenter’s pencil is something I recommend to a lot of first-time tiny house builders. They have a flat side so you can more accurately and easily draw along a board surface. The flat side also means they won’t roll away if you put it down on a table, they’re great to use as a spacer when doing deck boards and the likes, and they make scribing easier. I’d get a big box of them — I often started my day by tossing a few in each area I was going to work so I always had one at hand.


Ryan’s Pencil Recommendation:

Pneumatic Tools That Will Make Building A Tiny House Easier

Pneumatic Tools That Will Make Building A Tiny House Easier

This class of tools was intimidating when I first started, but after teaching myself the ins and outs, I’ve come to love them. If there is one set of tools that will make building a tiny house easier, it’s these. The labor they save you is huge and means you can get more done quickly and easily.

The other thing that these help you with is wear and tear on your body. If you talk to some old timer framers, you’ll quickly learn that building a house is hard on the body. Most of you reading aren’t builders or contractors and that means you’re not used to this kind of work. Do yourself a favor and get these tools — you’ll thank me for it later.

Air Tool Combo Kits

Air Tool Combo Kits

This is a great way to get started and, if you’re building a tiny house, it’s all you really need. I was worried that this 6-gallon pancake compressor wouldn’t keep up, but not once was I left waiting for it to catch back up.

These kits are great and I’d suggest one to anyone wanting to build a tiny home. The only additional things I’d suggest are a palm nailer, an extra hose, and a framing nailer; more on that next.


Ryan’s Recommendation:

6-Gallon Air Compressor

6-Gallon Air Compressor

The heart of any pneumatic system is the compressor, which makes pressured air that will power all your tools. A standard 6-gallon pancake compressor is all you’ll need. Just make sure you get a name brand and consider buying new because the combo kits are so affordable.


Ryan’s Recommendation:

Finishing Nail Gun

Finishing Nail Gun

A finishing nailer uses small 16-gauge nails that have a very low-profile head. These are only to be used in finishing work, as they aren’t suited for anything structural. The narrow head means the nail will make a very small hole in the finished piece that you can either fill or leave as is.


Ryan’s Finish Nailer Recommendation:

Framing Nailer

Framing Nailer

A framing nailer is what you’ll use when doing anything structural. The nails it can drive are much larger and heavier, specifically 3” .131 ring shank nails, which you’ll be framing your tiny home with. You could use a hammer to drive these, but a framing nailer, which can be had for $86 brand new, is too affordable to not use. Plus as I mentioned earlier, this will save your body a lot of pain.


Ryan’s Recommendation:

Palm Nailer

Palm Nailer

A palm nailer is a neat little air hammer that fits in the palm of your hand. For tiny home building, I used it for two main areas: nailing in siding and nailing Tico nails into joist hangers and tiedowns. Both those applications can be done with a one-off specialty nail gun, but since we’re not professional builders that will use them over and over, a palm nailer is the perfect solution.


Ryan’s Palm Nailer Recommendation:

Air Hose

Air Hose

If you get the combo kit I mentioned above, it will come with a low-quality hose that I found to be quite serviceable for my build, but I also did go out and buy a second hose. These hoses have universal connectors, so you don’t have to worry about mixing and matching brands.

At the start of my day, I’d set up my work station and tools, then would run one hose to my house for my nail gun and a second hose to my cut station with a blow gun to blow off dust as I made my cuts. Not necessary, but definitely helped make things go a little faster.


Ryan’s Air Hose Recommendation:

how to build a tiny house

Other Tools You’ll Need To Build A Tiny House

Other Tools You Will Need To Build A Tiny House

There are a few other items you’ll need to build your tiny home. Most of these fall into the safety category, so they should be considered carefully. Make sure your safety equipment works for you andis comfortable and easy, that way you’ll be more apt to use them and stay safe.

Ear Protection

Ear Protection

Do yourself a favor and figure out ear protection that works for you. A lot of people like over the head ear muffs, but because I wear glasses, I found ear plugs to be more practical for me. I picked up a big box of them at the start of my build, that way I never had the excuse of not having some. The box linked to here is a pack of 200 sets all individually wrapped, which was perfect to give to any friends and family who showed up to help.


Ear Protection Recommendation:

Eye Protection

Eye Protection

Like the above, have a few of these on hand for you and anyone who comes to help you. I wear glasses normally, so I didn’t really think about these, but I did have a set on hand for helpers.


Eye Protection Recommendation:

Work Gloves

Work Gloves

If you are anything like me, you don’t come from a construction background. In fact, during my tiny house build, I built on the weekends and went to my corporate job in HR during the week. The point being that my hands weren’t toughened up like a trade persons’ hands would be.

Gloves save you a lot of wear and tear until you can toughen up your hands. I kept a few pairs of these Mechanix brand gloves on hand and I love them.


Ryan’s Work Gloves Recommendation:

Mask

Filtration Mask

People will have their own preferences here. Find something that works for you so that you’ll actually use it.

Clamps

Quick Clamps

You’re going to need a slew of clamps during your build process. I’d start out with a basic clamp set like the Irwin Quick Grips and then see what you need from there.


Ryan’s Clamps Recommendation:

Tool Belt

Tool Belt

I started out using a tool belt all the time, but later on I only wore it when I was up on a ladder or climbing around on a roof. Go to your local big box store and try on some to see what works for you. I also used a smaller apron just to hold whatever fastener I was using and a 5 gallon bucket to hold everything else.

Ladders

Ladders

I used three ladders throughout my build and I don’t know that I could have done with any fewer. First I had a 24-inch tall platform that was useful for things when I just needed a little bit of height. Then I also used an 8-foot ladder and a 20-foot extension ladder for working on the roof.


Ryan’s Ladder Recommendation:

tiny house building checklist

Final Thoughts On Tools For Building A Tiny House

Final Thoughts On Tools For Building A Tiny House

As you can see, you’re going to need a lot of tools to make your tiny home happen. I think all told, I spent about $2,000 on new tools to build my tiny home, but you might be able to get away with less. Buying used tools can be a great way to save some money, but I’d steer clear of used battery power tools and measuring tools.

There are a few things that you might only need once during your build, so borrowing a tool here and there is the way to go in those instances. I didn’t know anyone with tools outside of your basics, so I had to buy a few extras. There are also some tools that it makes sense to rent — a flooring nail gun was one I rented.

The other thing to budget for is all the fasteners, plates, adhesives, paints, and sealants you’ll need to use with these. I spent about $1,500 on just these and was shocked how much that all added up to.

I hope this was helpful in figuring out what tools you’ll need to build your tiny house.

Your Turn!

  • What tool for a tiny house build did I miss? What would you add?

Tiny House Roof – Tiny House Roofing Options

Tiny House Roof – Tiny House Roofing Options

Tiny House Roofing Options

NAVIGATION

informationRoof Detailsvented roofingVented vs Unventedroofing profilesRoof Profilesroof framingRoof Framingroofing optionsRoof Options

When I built my own tiny home, my tiny house roof was something I took a lot of time and care to install. A roof defines the character of your house, keeps the rain away, and protects everything under it, so making sure you get this right is crucial.

Your roof seems simple at first, but it has a lot of things that go into it. In this post I’ll get into what types of tiny house roofs you can choose from, what materials to consider, how to insulate your tiny house roof and whether should you vent your roof or not.

But first I want you to understand that a tiny house roof is not a single piece — it’s actually made up of several layers that make up the roof system. Understanding this system is critical to building a roof for your tiny home that will keep your house in good repair for a long time.

What Does A Roof Do For A Tiny Home

What Does A Roof Do For A Tiny Home

Let’s start out with what a roof does, because after teaching so many people how to build one, I’ve seen some common misconceptions. Making sure your roof is done properly relies on you getting the details right.

Your Roof Controls Four Things: Rain, Air, Vapor and Thermal Transfer

Roof Controls Four Things

I learned these from when I was building my own tiny house, but years later I was turned onto Joseph Lstiburek’s Perfect Wall concept over at the Building Science Council which summarizes it perfectly. He talks about how your outer system needs to have these four things to make a high performing wall, which he then goes on to show how that perfect wall turned sideways is also the perfect roof.

When we start to think about our roof, it’s helpful to think of it in layers. Each layer has an important function and the order matters. If we can get each layer right and in the correct order, we will have a great roof that will protect our tiny home.

The first thing a roof has to do is keep water off the rest of the structure with shingles, metal panels, etc. Water seeping into your tiny house will do a lot of damage, and ensuring a roof doesn’t leak when you have complicated dormers, valleys, or roof penetrations is no easy task.

how to build a tiny houseThe next thing we want to do is control air flow through our system. This again seems straight forward — just seal it up. But having a perfect air seal transition from where the roof meets the top of your wall, going around air vents, and working around insulation can be quite tricky. Having a well air-sealed house is very important to having an efficient tiny house.

While many people focus on insulating their roof, air sealing will actually make a bigger difference. In fact, a well-sealed house that’s poorly insulated is dramatically better than a well-insulated house that is poorly sealed.

With air comes vapor and that moisture-laden air can lead to mold in your tiny house if not controlled. It’s often the case that the layer that prevents air from entering into your roof structure also is the same that prevents moisture from entering too, like with Tyvek or tar paper.

The last layer, and least important of them all, is the thermal layer. Insulating your tiny house roof is an important step to building your roof system, but won’t mean much if you can’t first control water, air, and vapor. The roof of your tiny home will need to be more insulated than your walls or floors because heat rises. Typically roof insulation is two to three times the R value of your wall insulation.

Vented Vs. Unvented Tiny House Roofs

Vented Vs Unvented Tiny House Roofs

A big decision to make about your roof is whether it is vented or unvented. The distinction is pretty obvious, but the details are again very important.

Vented Tiny House Roof

Vented Roof on a tiny house

A vented roof allows for air to move along the underside of the roof, entering in the soffit vents and out the ridge vent. This is the traditional approach to building a roof and many benefits.

how ridgevent allows airflow through a roof

The natural air flow allows for any moisture vapor to be dried as the air flows through your vented roof. In the winter it keeps the bottom side of the roof the same temperature as the outside, which prevents ice dams. In the summer, when the heat from the sun is absorbed by your roof, a vented roof will actively cool the space between the roof and your insulation.

Unvented Tiny House Roof

tiny house Unvented Roof

An unvented roof is a sealed system that does not allow for air to move through it. This is a more modern way of building a roof and for tiny homes is the one I recommend. In a tiny house, you only have so much vertical height because of DOT rules. This means that if we were to vent our roof, we would have to give up internal space we’d otherwise use for living space to allow for venting, which is very limited to begin with.

tiny house dimensions

An unvented roof is also easier to build in my opinion. While the details are important, I find there are fewer things to worry about. At the end of the day, an unvented roof is easier to build, is less complicated, and gives us more living space; that’s a win, win, win in my book.

Tiny House Roof Profiles

Tiny House Roof Profiles

Like with any home, you have a lot of different roof profile options, and the shape and style of your roof can have a huge impact on the look and feel of your tiny home. For example, a flat roof will be more modern looking while a gambrel roof has more of a country or farm feel to it. A gable roof with clean lines will be more classic of a look and so on.

Your roof style will also impact the available space inside your house. A Gambrel roof tends to have the most internal space, but for my taste, I don’t love the look.

A flat roof can really lend to a more modern home design and is very simple to construct. If you feel overwhelmed by all the compound miter cuts of a hipped roof, a shed roof might your ideal approach. People often put the loft in the higher end so there is more space in their tiny house loft while the lower end is on the opposite side.

types of roofs you can put on a tiny house

How To Frame A Tiny House Roof

How To Frame A Tiny House Roof

Framing your tiny house roof is a big step and one that took me the longest when I built my own tiny home. The combination of having to climb up and down plus the complex angles that need to be cut meant it took me a while to get this right.

There are three main components to your roof framing: the top plate of the wall, your ridge beam, and the rafter that connects the two.

Step 1: Straighten Your Walls

How To Straighten Your Walls when building a tiny house

First start by squaring your walls. It’s amazing how much your wall framing can move, so make sure that the wall is straight across its face. You should also check that the frame of the outside of the wall is square to itself. Check the plumb of the wall and each of its studs. Then finally make sure all the walls are square to each other.

You’ll no doubt find that your walls, despite being built properly, will be out of alignment in some direction. There are various techniques to push and pull your walls into square, but my go to was with ratchet straps. I applied the straps to pull the wall into alignment and added my sheathing to the outside (which we’ll talk more about soon). Then I could start to build my ridge beam.

using straps to straighten a wall

Step 2: Make A Rafter Template

How To Make A Rafter Template

This is another important step and one that will give you the most grief if you’ve done it wrong. It is vitally important that your walls are totally straight so that when you install these rafters, you can trust things to line up.

There are a lot of elements that go into cutting rafters. Boiled down, you have the rise of the roof (how tall it is above the wall), the run of the roof (how wide that side of the roof is), and the pitch (the angle of the roof).

rafter template guide

You’ll frequently hear about a “12/12 roof” or a “4/12 roof,” which essentially means for every number of inches of the first number, it will rise the number of inches in the second number. A 12:12 roof means that for every 12 inches of run it will rise 12 inches.

rafter tail description
view of rafter tail

You’ll want to make a rafter template because it will ensure that all your rafters are exactly the same and speed things up. The angles of your rafter tail, bird’s mouth, and ridge can be tricky, so do yourself a favor and figure them out only once with your template.

You’ll use the template to make all your rafters ahead of time, then start installing them on the house. Don’t try to custom cut each rafter as you go or you’ll end up with a very uneven roof.

cut rafter template

Step 3: Install Your Ridge Beam

How To Install A Ridge Beam

Once you’re sure that everything thing is actually square, I start by installing a temporary 2×4 on the outside of the house to temporarily hold in place my first set of rafters and my last set of rafters. This establishes your start and end points to make sure that you’re placing them exactly in the right spot.

To those sets of rafters I install my ridge beam at both ends, checking that everything is straight and installed in the right place, and at the correct angles. Double (and maybe triple) check this because getting your rafters right at the start and end will set you up for success as you fill in the rest of the rafters.

installing a ridge beam on a tiny house
ridge beam installed on a tiny house

how to build a tiny house

Step 4: Install The Middle Rafters

Install The Middle Rafters

This part should be pretty quick because you’ve already done a ton of work ahead of time to make sure this exact step goes off without a hitch. You’ve straightened your whole tiny home, made all your rafters from the same template, and started the roof off on either end.

Part of the reason we do all of this is because often the ridge beam is a single piece of wood or two pieces laminated together. This undoubtedly means the ridge beam isn’t perfectly straight. Remember that lumber warps and twists, and I’ve found the longer the piece, the more warping it will have. Since we’ve made sure everything else is straight and plumb, we can use the rest of the house to index off of.

tiny house with rafters installedAs you go in and add your rafters, you’re going to physically push and pull the ridge beam into alignment with the rafters. Depending on the warping of the ridge beam, you’ll have to pull the ridge beam towards you or push it away so the plum cut at the top of the rafters lay flush on the beam’s face.

If the top edge of your plumb cut on the rafter rises above the ridge beam, you’ll have to pull it down to be flush, even going as far as hanging on it with your full weight. Alternately, you may need to push the ridge beam up a bit to get it to be flush — to do that I wedge a 2×4 between the ridge beam and the floor and lever it into place.

Keep in mind that all of this is totally expected and isn’t a problem, assuming you did all the leg work ahead of time to make sure everything else is straight.

Step 5: Attach Your Hurricane Roof Ties

Attach Your Hurricane Roof Ties

Even if your local code doesn’t require this, I suggest you do this step. Going down the road at 60 mph isn’t something that a normal home will do, but for a tiny house, it’s not uncommon. You’ll want to use Simpson Strong-Ties with the appropriate Tico nail to secure these in addition to your regular nailing and screwing.

Here is how I did my ridge strapping:ridge strapping over ridge beam
How I attached bottom end of rafter using ties to wall:straps to hold rafter ends to wall

Step 6: Add Blocking For Attaching Your Roof Sheathing

Add Blocking For Attaching Your Roof Sheathing

How you lay down and attach your sheathing to your roof framing needs to be done in a very specific way. I go into it more in my How To Build A Tiny House guide. As you’re laying down your decking, you might find that the seams of your sheets don’t have wood right behind it to support the seam and to attach directly to with a nail, screw, or staple.

Here is the inside of my roofing, where I’ve added this extra blocking to support the roof decking seam (hidden from view by the blocking):

bllocking for roof sheathing
cracking the code book

Step 7: Add Roof Decking

Add Roof Decking

roof sheathing clipsAfter you’ve added all your rafters, hurricane strapping, and checked that everything is square, it’s time to add your roof decking. Between your plywood or ZIP panels, you’re going to want to add roof clips. Add the panels to your roof decking and attach with the appropriate code-compliant fastener (local codes are very specific about this).

Step 8: Apply Underlayment

Apply Underlayment to tiny house roof

roof underlayment in place

This is a layer of our roof system that is part of our water control layer, but can also cover your air and vapor control layers. Traditionally this would be done with felt paper, which is still a very commonly used option.

However, on a tiny house, because we have such a small area to cover, I’d suggest going with a self-adhesive roof underlayment like Grace’s Ice and Water Shield.

Since you only need one roll of this to cover your entire tiny house roof, it just makes sense to buy the best. Where a traditional roof’s size would be cost prohibitive, on a tiny house it only adds about $90 to the bill.

Step 9: Add Roofing Material – Metal Roofs, Asphalt Shingles, Etc.

Add Roofing Material to tiny house

An important thing to note here is that most underlayment is only designed to be exposed to UV rays for 30-60 days — anything longer than that and they can start to break down. When you get your roof decking on and sealed up, try to add the roofing material soon after.

Each of these options are going to have a different way of installing them, but make sure you follow your directions from the manufacturer and concentrate on getting transition points like ridges, valleys, and dormers right.

Broadly speaking, you want to think about how water will flow off your roof. Typically this means you’ll start your roofing at the bottom and work your way up, so that each preceding layer covers the bottom one. This allows for water to flow down and off your roof.

Tiny House Roofing Options

Tiny House Roofing Options

You’ll need to choose what type of roofing material you’re going to cover your roof decking with as there are several options for you to consider. I’ll start with my personal recommendation, then go on to other common ones.

Standing Seam Metal Roofs

Standing Seam Metal Roofs

Standing seam metal roofs are what I recommend to most people for their tiny house. Metal roofs are very durable, and standing seams (meaning the joints are off the plane where the water will run) have a huge advantage of hidden fastener points. What this means is that you can attach the roof to the decking without having that fastening point being exposed. Metal roofs are also much better at handling higher wind speeds.

PROS

  • Very durable
  • Long lasting: ~50 years
  • Many color choices
  • Hidden fastener

CONS

  • Most expensive
  • Tricky to install on complex roofs
  • Requires a special order
  • Asthetic not to everyone’s taste

Asphalt/Fiberglass Shingles

Fiberglass Shingles

Shingles are a popular option because of how affordable and approachable they are. However there are two big drawbacks to shingles: they are known to blow off a tiny house as it drives down the road and they are heavy.

PROS

  • Decently durable
  • Affordable
  • Widely available
  • Easily installed

CONS

  • Blow off going down the road
  • Heavy: 2.5-4 pounds per square foot
  • Not suitable for low slope roofs
  • Prone to streaks and staining

Corrugated Metal – Through Fastener Panels

Corrugated Metal roofing

This is an attractive option that gives you the durability of a standing seam without the price. These panels are also widely available, so you may not even need to order them ahead of time. They’re also pretty easy to install, which is done by driving a rubber gasketed screw through the face of them. The fact that you attach them by driving a screw through the surface is the biggest drawback, as you’re essentially poking hundreds of holes into your roof, which isn’t a great idea.

PROS

  • Affordable
  • Durable
  • Widely available
  • Easy to install

CONS

  • Through fasteners can leak
  • Slightly higher cost
  • Requires cutting metal
  • Tricky to do transition points

Other Tiny House Roofing Options

There are of course many more roofing options like wood shingles, slate roofs, terra cotta tiles, composite panels, copper roofing, etc., but they all have more drawbacks than positives. In general, I suggest standing seam metal roofs for all tiny houses because of their hidden fasteners, high wind rating, and overall durability.

Tiny House Minimum Roof Pitch

Tiny House Minimum Roof Pitch

An important consideration for your tiny house roof is the minimum roof pitch or angle. General advice is that your roof should have at least a 2/12 pitch, meaning for every foot of run, your roof will rise 2 inches. You can go shallower or even flat with an EPDM roof (similar to a pool liner material), but these end up being a lot of extra work as they require the details to be done just right and, as I’ve heard from my tiny house friends with flat roofs, tend to leak.

I’d advise people to stick to at least a 4/12 pitch to be on the safe side. This is mainly because a tiny house might not always be level depending where you park it, and a tiny house that is slightly out of level with a roof pitch of, say,2/12 might be canted enough to one side to allow water to pool on your roof.

Tiny House With A Garden On Roof / Green Roof

Tiny House With A Green Roof

From time to time, people ask about having a green roof or a tiny house that has a roof-top garden. People are attracted to them because they’re an interesting element, help reduce heat absorption, don’t contribute to the heat island effect in cities, and add green space to what is normally an unused space.

garden roof diagram

It is important to understand that these types of roofs are often very heavy. If you’re thinking about building a tiny house on a foundation, this could be a really good option. But if you want a tiny house on wheels, this is most likely going to be too heavy for your trailer or, at the very least, you’re going to have to calculate the additional load and get a trailer with a higher weight rating.

Your Turn!

  • What are you going to do for your tiny house roof?

Skoolie Floor Plans – Designing Your Dream School Bus Layout

Skoolie Floor Plans – Designing Your Dream School Bus Layout

skoolie floorplansComing up with the perfect Skoolie floor plan for your bus conversion involves a lot of big decisions. Trying to figure out a great layout that makes the most of your limited space is something that requires planning and inspiration. So Here are a few tips to design the dream school bus layout for your future Skoolie.

NAVIGATION

Key Decisions For Your Skoolie Floor Plan

Key Decisions For Your Skoolie Floor Plan

A great place to start is setting some parameters for your build. These are the type of decisions that are difficult or impossible to change, will set the tone of your build and, if done well, can make a design successful.

Which Bus Size Is Right For Your Layout

Which Bus Size Is Right For Your Layout

One of the first things you’ll need to determine is what size bus is right for you. It’s not just about how much space you need— you should also consider how comfortable you are driving it down the road, how easy it is to park, and fuel consumption.

skoolie expertEXPERT TIP: What to consider when choosing a bus size?

One major restriction to keep in mind is for those looking to travel to national parks. The average maximum length allowed into national parks is 27 feet, which would restrict many to a short to mid-sized bus if looking to travel into many national parks. However, some national parks do allow up to a full-sized 40-foot bus.

– Chris & Sarah from Skoolie Livin

A smaller four-window short bus might be right for you if you just want something for a quick weekend getaway — something that you’ll load up after work and head out for a short weekend trip. A smaller bus like this will cost less because fewer materials are needed and it doesn’t need to have all the features of a full-time living bus. When not in use, it will also take up less space in your driveway.

A mid-sized seven-window bus might give you some extra room, without being too difficult to get up back roads as you adventure. I have driven longer vehicles on mountain roads and it’s not for the faint of heart!

If you need as much square footage as you can get, a full-sized bus with 13 windows might be your only option. This works best if you have a family or if you’re planning on living in your Skoolie full time.

BUS DESCRIPTION LENGTH WIDTH SQUARE FEET
4-Window 20′ 7.5′ 150
7-Window 25′ 7.5′ 187.5
11-Window 35′ 7.5′ 262.5
13-Window 40′ 7.5′ 300

Choosing Locations For Your Bathrooms, Sinks and Drains

Choosing Locations For Your Bathroom in a skoolie floorplan

If I’ve learned anything about building on a mobile platform, it’s that you need to plan your drain lines carefully! Nothing is worse than going to install your shower basin only to discover the drain hole is smack-dab in the middle of a chassis crossmember or an axle.

You also need to consider where you’re going to run water supply lines. Unlike your drains which have to be in the lowest part of the bus, water lines can be routed more easily.

The one thing to consider is the locations of your sinks. If you centralize your kitchen sink to be on one side of a wall and the bathroom sink to be on the opposite side of the wall, you can simplify your plumbing a lot!

skoolie floorplan expertEXPERT TIP: Location of gas appliances.

My #1 most important tip is to keep all the propane appliances together to minimize the amount of propane pipe in a school bus conversion. The more propane pipe you have, the greater the chances of a gas leak. This is why most conversions that choose to have an RV range and an RV propane heater stack them with the range mounted above the propane heater. Then their propane water heater is usually not too far away, either.

– Chris & Sarah from Skoolie Livin

Enclosed Vs. Open Spaces

open and closed spaces in a skoolie layout

Many older Skoolie floor plans were very closed off, dark, and filled with partitioned rooms, but more and more we’re seeing conversion layouts that are open concept. Gone are the days of dark spaces — now we use as much natural light from the windows as possible to fill the space.

Two spaces that are commonly closed off into their own rooms are bedrooms (especially with a family) and bathrooms. The obvious need for privacy in these spaces is what makes this necessary, but their placement is vitally important.

While you don’t generally want to close off the space in a Skoolie, choosing a layout that clusters these closed off spaces together to maximize the amount of open space is key. Having a solid wall for your bathroom is a must for most, so consider having it at the very back or as part of the partition between the living space and bedroom.

Determine What To Include In Your Layout

Determine What To Include In Your Skoolie Layout

After living in only 150 square feet for close to a decade now, there is one thing that I see people get wrong time and time again when they first decide to live small: trying to have their space do everything. You want a space that does a few critical things well and, in a pinch, can do things that come up once in a blue moon just okay.

how to find a used school bus to build a skooliePeople often try to take everything a big house can do and jam it all into a very small space. By its nature, making the transition to a Skoolie, you want to live a more simple life.

People think if they “just live in a skoolie” their lives will become simpler, happier, and more adventurous! This is fundamentally wrong and ironically is the reason you don’t have a simple life now. It has nothing to do with living in a Skoolie and everything to do with your frame of mind.

People can live simply in a large home, in an apartment, or in a Skoolie — the important difference is that people who live simply live that way because they’ve done the mental work to shift their life view to one that cuts out all that ties us down.

Because of this, figuring out what your Skoolie floor plan is going to do for you is as important as figuring out what it’s not going to do. It’s the process of shifting your life so you don’t feel the need for it to have all the trappings of a larger home that will get you the life you desire and lead you to a Skoolie design that works for you.

What Your Skoolie Floor Plan Needs To Do

skoolie layout blueprint

There are a few core things every house needs to do and some things that are more specific to you and your life. The biggest piece of advice is to focus on the things that you do every single day. The more time in a day you spend doing those things, the more space and attention should be devoted to it.

The rule of thumb here is things you spend the most time doing on a daily (or weekly) basis are things that your design should support. Things that you do once in a while, for a short amount of time, or on a scale of monthly or yearly shouldn’t be a design focus.
I’m going to set aside the fact that there might be some things you do daily that you should simplify out of your routine here. But to build a practical, functional, and livable space, you need to make sure the space supports your life, not try to fit your life to the space.

There are a few things that all humans need here:

  • A place to sleep
  • A place to go to the bathroom
  • A place to prepare food
  • A place to take care of personal hygiene
  • Storage for personal possessions
hanks skoolie interior

Of course, you are going to want to customize these spaces to suit your life. You need a place to sleep, but if you’re a single person, a full bed might work; if you’re a couple or a family, sleeping arrangements need to be bigger. If you’re a person who doesn’t like to cook, you might only need a small cabinet, a mini fridge, and a hot plate you tuck away. If you love to cook, a bigger kitchen with a full fridge and large stove top might be in order.

Think about what deserves space in your limited square footage.

What You Should Exclude From Your Floor Plan

What You Should Exclude From Your Skoolie Floor Plan

The biggest factor in a good design is not what is included, but is what is left out. A space should be practical, but if you try to do everything with a single space, it will just end up doing a lot of things poorly.

Choosing what to focus on means the space will do a few things very well. If we can design our floor plan to do the right things for us, we will have a beautiful space that is very livable.

skoolie bedroom layoutThe biggest culprit of trying to do too much in a space is what I call outlier activities. These are things you do every so often, but not every day. People’s designs often fall down when they jump through hoops to support these outlier activities.

A great example is a guest bedroom. People will have a whole space that they furnish, heat/cool, decorate, and keep clean so that one night a year a guest can stay there. We want to avoid situations in our design like this where possible.

Other areas I commonly see people trying to bake into their design is what I call aspirational spaces. When making a dramatic change like moving into a Skoolie, it can be tempting to think we are going to redefine our whole lives, do things we always wanted to do, or things we convinced ourselves are part of a preconceived notion of the lifestyle we strive for.

If you want to do crafts often and have a dedicated space for crafting, make the change now! If after six months or a year, you are crafting daily, then work it into your design. If you want a dedicated meditation space or yoga space, make it part of your daily practice for a long time, and then and only then should you include it in your design.

extra space in a skoolie floor planWhen making the leap to a simpler life, we often aspire to do or be certain things, but it’s difficult to make lasting change. There are two sides to this coin: don’t wait to live simply, do it now! And realize you have so little square footage that you can’t afford to not use every inch daily.

The last area you should watch out for is what I call transition spaces: places that take up square footage as connectors between areas of your Skoolie. Hallways are a great example of this — they’re wasted square footage that is only used for a few seconds as you walk through them. With such a small space, utilizing every inch matters.

School Bus Floor Plan Dimensions

School Bus Floor Plan Dimensions

Dimensions can vary between models and brands, so it’s best to figure out a rough plan and then get actual measurements from the bus you buy for conversion. Below are some general guidelines of dimensions so you can have a rough idea of what things might look like for your own Skoolie floor plan.

  • Interior – floor to window: 30.5″
  • Interior – floor to top of ceiling: Most are 72″ to 78″
  • Window width: Short windows are 25″ wide, Long windows are 32″ and 35″
  • Window height: 24″
  • Window sill height: 30.5″
  • Distance between wheel wells: varies based on model
  • Average size of wheel wells: 48″ in the front and 39″ in the back.
  • Front door width: 29” door with 27” opening

How To Design Your Skoolie Floor Plan

How To Design Your Skoolie Floor Plan

Planning is a big part of your design process. If I’ve learned anything about building, it’s that an hour spent planning often saves me many hours and wasted dollars later.
Laying out your Skoolie floor plan in broad strokes is a great place to start, then once you have a general vision, you can get into all the details and technical bits. So how do you start?

First off, you hopefully have taken some time to figure out what your design needs to do for you, what should be included, and, most importantly, what’s not going to be included. Take some time to distill these things into a checklist and use it to guide your design. As the saying goes: form follows function.

As you start to put pencil to paper or start clicking your mouse (I’ll go more into that soon), start with your design constraints and accurately map those out. These are things that you need to work around because you can’t change them.

Skoolie Design Constraints:

  • Length of your bus
  • Width of your bus
  • Location of doors
  • Wheel wells
school bus turned skoolie

These are realities that you simply can’t change, so start by mapping them onto your floor plan and consider making copies so you don’t have to rewrite them in every iteration of your design later as you experiment with different layouts.

The next big decision is where to place the bedroom, bathroom, and kitchen. Start with general locations, thinking about how your daily life would flow with these areas placed where you have them. Most people place the bedroom at the very back of their bus and build in a large storage space under the bed.

skoolie expertEXPERT TIP: How To Design Your Skoolie Layout.

Imagine using the space and think about the flow of using the storage space. Every spot in a skoolie really should be designed purposely for how you will use the overall space to live, including sleeping, hanging out, cooking, working, playing, etc.

– Chris & Sarah from Skoolie Livin

Once you have a general idea of the location of your three big areas, start to fill in the gaps in between them, keeping in mind the other items on your checklist. You’ll want to make sure you have good storage, a place to relax, and possibly a place to do your work from.

Families and couples should also consider the needs of each person. If you have kids, do you home school? Where will their toys be kept? If you’re a couple, do you need a quiet space to work, do hobbies, etc.? How will each member have privacy if they need some time to themselves?

Another consideration that you should take into account is how the weight of your Skoolie is balanced. You want to consider the weight of the built-in features, furniture, appliances, possessions, and even people. One major area people don’t consider is water tanks — at 8.5 lbs per gallon, even a small fresh water tank or tank hot water heater can add up to a lot.

skoolie floorplan expertEXPERT TIP: How You Should Balance Your Weight.

The easiest way to balance a bus is with a center aisle layout, as you can easily balance weight on both sides. Then, make a list of every item you plan on installing into the bus like the fridge, range, water storage tanks when full, and batteries. It is best to try to even these out on each side of the bus as much as possible.

– Chris & Sarah from Skoolie Livin

Take some time to consider several different options. It’s good to spend some time designing your Skoolie and then give it some space for a while so you can come back to it with fresh eyes. If you’re more than one person, make sure you get their feedback too.

The last thing I’ll mention is a few critical things people often forget:

  • Trash Can: Where will you put your trash?
  • Pantry: Make sure you have enough room to store food.
  • Laundry: Where will you keep dirty laundry before washing it?
  • Hot Water Heater: Where will you locate the tank or unit?
  • Electrical Panel: Where can you place it to be out of sight, but still easily accessible?
  • Shoes: Where will you store shoes that aren’t being worn?
  • Tools: Where will you keep items to fix your bus with?
  • Large Items: Can your couch, appliances, shower stall, and mattress fit through the main door?

How To Draw Your Skoolie Floor Plan

How To Draw Your Skoolie Floor Plan

At some point, you’re going to need to actually sketch your ideas onto paper to finalize your design. There are two main ways people go about this.

Graph Paper And Pencil

Graph Paper And Pencil for skoolie design

Sometimes going old school is the way to go when it comes to designing, especially when you’re making large changes in the beginning of your design process. Using graph paper is a quick way to get started. Start with getting your final dimensions by measuring your bus, then determine the scale you want to use and draw your design out to scale.

Once you’ve finalized a hand-drawn design, I’d suggest taking that and laying it out in a digital design software.

Skoolie Design Software

Skoolie Design Software

If you want to go higher tech or want to finalize your drawn plan digitally, using some sort of software is the way to go. While there are many good options out there, Sketchup is a great option that is pretty user friendly, has lots of free online tutorials, and is free to use.

There is a learning curve to Sketchup, but I find it to strike a good balance between simple enough to learn but powerful enough to do what you need it to do. After getting your main dimension mapped out, save the file as a template in case you want to try other designs. I also save my file as I make updates under a versioned file name. That way, if I mess something up, I can roll back to an earlier version more easily.

Sketchup is really nice because there are a ton of free YouTube tutorials, too. If you’ve never used Sketchup before, start with some basic tutorials and then you can search for specific tools or techniques as they come up.

Since the design is digital, you can quickly snap measurement labels between different parts of your design to see if you’ll have enough space to open doors, walk through the space, etc.

Skoolie Floor Plan Design Inspirations

Skoolie Floor Plan Design Inspirations

13 window / 40ft (full size) for a family with bunk beds

the bougie buslarge skoolie floorplan

11 window / 35ft (full size) Skoolie floorplan bench seat

going boundlesscreative skoolie layout

7 window / 25 ft (mid-size) with open floor plan

our vanquest instagramskoolie floorplan for bus

4 window / 20 ft (short bus) with full kitchen

a bus named sue instagramcreative layout for skoolie floorplan

Skoolie Layout Design Tips

Skoolie Layout Design Tips

Here are some things to think about when it comes to creating a skoolie layout for your bus conversion.

  • Wait till you have your bus for real world dimensions
  • Consider what areas need to be private vs. semi-private
  • Balancing the weight of your bus is crucial for safety
  • Consider the locations of things you cannot change about your bus
  • Don’t forget to consider ventilation in your bathroom

 

Your Turn!

  • What are you going to include in your Skoolie floor plan?

Tiny House Insulation: What I Wish I Knew When I Built My Tiny Home

Tiny House Insulation: What I Wish I Knew When I Built My Tiny Home

tiny house insulationFall is here and, with it, colder weather, so let’s talk about the best insulation options for your tiny house. Having lived in my tiny house for seven winters now, I know a little bit about how to stay warm in a cold climate. Insulation is critical to a comfortable tiny home. I’ll break down R values, costs, options, and the pros and cons for each of the top tiny house insulation options for when you build your own tiny home.

You can review all the options for tiny house insulation below or choose what is most important to you:

highest r value insulation
lowest cost insulation
best value insulation
sustainable insulation
spray foam insulation
ryans recommendation

Tiny House Insulation Basics

Tiny House Insulation Basics

Insulation is an important choice and you want to make sure you choose the best insulation for your tiny home. Let’s start with some basics before we dig into the details. Most of the info in this post is from living in my own tiny house for close to a decade now and from helping build hundreds of tiny homes.

NAVIGATION

tiny house insulation basicsInsulation Basicshow to insulate a tiny houseHow To Insulateinsulating different parts of a tiny houseInsulate Wall/Rooftiny house insulation optionsInsulation Optionsclosed cell spray foamClosed Cell Sprayopen cell spray foamOpen Cell SprayFiberglass batts for a tiny houseFiberglassrock wool insulationRock Woolfoam board insulation optionsFoam Boarddenim or cotton insulationDenim Cotton

What Does R Value Mean For Insulation

What Does R Value Mean For Insulation

R value is a measurement of how well an insulation resists heat being transferred. One thing that confuses first-time builders is that insulation doesn’t keep the heat of your heater in or the cold of your air conditioning in. All insulation does is slow heat from transferring to where you don’t want it.

In the case of air conditioning, cold isn’t actually a thing — it’s just air that has much less heat. So in the summer, the coolness of your house warms up as heat seeps inside. In the winter, you house will cool off as heat seeps outside.

R value is just a measure of how well something insulates from heat transferring. You’ll see it referred to as R-30 or R-7 the higher the number, the better job it does. But one thing to consider is how well something insulates per inch of thickness. This lets you compare insulations apples to apples. Keep in mind that most framed houses have 3.5 inches of space to insulate, unless you frame with 2×6’s, which have 5.5 inches of space to insulate.

Another important thing to remember is that heat rises, and for this reason, code requires your attics to be well insulated — often two to three times as much as the walls and floors. It’s pretty common to see walls that are rated at R-13, but the ceiling be rated at R-30.

highest r value per inch of insulation

Insulate Your Tiny Home For Your Climate – Climate Regions For US With R Values

Insulate Your Tiny Home For Your Climate

How much insulation do you need for your tiny house? Well that depends on your climate and how efficient you want your tiny house to be. The best guide is first determining your climate region with the Department of Energy’s climate zone map, which you can see here. Then use the chart below to see what the general guidelines are. From there you’ll need to get specific guidance from your local codes, which can often be found on Municode.

regional r-values of insulation
insulation r-value for wall thickness

How To Insulate Your Tiny House

How To Insulate Your Tiny House

It seems simple: choose your insulation, put it between your studs, move on. The problem with that approach is that the devil is in the details. If you get them wrong, your home will be hot, cold, moldy and uncomfortable.

Insulation does more than keep you warm. It also helps manage air flow through your wall systems and manages moisture in some very important ways. Nothing about insulating is difficult to do, but it requires you to understand some of the basics which I get into below.

Step 1: Air Seal Your Tiny Home

Air Seal Your Tiny Home

Air sealing will do wonders for your home’s comfortability and how well your insulation will work. A leaky house with excellent insulation will actually perform worse than a house that’s sealed well and has average insulation.

The best thing to do is seal your house the best you can, then perform a blower door test. This creates a lower pressure inside the house and lets you see where air is being pulled in. You can use a smoke pen or a thermal camera to see where air leaks are.

Barring a blower door test, you can just make sure all the critical junctions are sealed:

  • Doors
  • Windows
  • Outlets
  • Exterior penetrations
  • Intersection of wall to floor
  • Intersection of wall to roof

The two biggest pieces of advice I have are to use Zip Panels tapped properly and use Great Stuff expanding foam to seal around cracks. These two things will let you seal up all the major areas of your home.

Step 2: Consider Thermal Bridges

Consider Thermal Bridges

This is a little advanced, but we’re now getting a lot of data showing this can be a big problem in the efficiency of tiny homes. To put it simply, thermal bridging is where a material that transmits heat crosses into or out of your conditioned space.

A practical tiny house example is wheel well fenders when building on a trailer,. If you build your walls partially over the wheel wells, you won’t be able to insulate around them as much as the rest of your walls. The metal of the trailer will take the heat from inside your tiny home and provide a pathway for it to more easily bleed out into the outside climate.

The studs of our walls act as a thermal bridge too, which is why we see more and more homes being build with an outer layer of insulation or a product called Zip-R which is sheathing with a layer of insulation built in.

Step 3: Check Your Codes

Check Building Codes for your area

Another important step is learning what code requires for your floor, ceiling, and walls. This is largely based on the climate you live in, so it will be different for each city/town. For moderate climates, you typically need an R factor of 15 in your walls and 30 in your ceiling. Colder climates will require higher R values.

Here is a great resource for finding your local insulation requirements.

Step 4: Choose Your Insulation For Your Tiny Home

Choose Your Insulation For Your Tiny Home

Later on in this post, I’ll get into the pro and cons of different insulation options for your tiny houses, but more broadly speaking I wanted to talk about choosing your insulation. The main considerations when choosing are:

  • Can you do it yourself or do you have to hire someone?
  • How much do you have to spend?

I’ll make this really simple: there are options that stand out clearly, but people don’t choose them because of cost or the need to hire someone to install it, which is essentially also cost. It comes down to how much money you can spend on your insulation.

The important thing to know is that insulation pays for itself in the long term. This is a widely understood and agreed upon fact, but people trying to get the most out of their budgets look for ways to cut costs and thus cut corners on insulation.

The difference between average insulation and the best insulation is around $2000, but remember that your power bill will be about 30% less each month for the rest of your life. This means that after about 3.5 years, you should be saving money.
Depending how long you live in your tiny house, it could save you thousands of dollars over the life span. Between my solar panels and insulation, I have not had to pay a power bill for the last eight years, so trust me when I say it’s game changing.

My advice is to buy the best option, even if that means delaying your build a few months for you to work and save extra. This isn’t an area you should skimp on, and if you do, it will cost you big!

Step 5: Understand Vapor Barriers

Understand Vapor Barriers

Vapor barriers are one of the most controversial topics among the building community. There is a lot of “that’s how we’ve always done it” thrown around, but most building hasn’t benefited from a lot of the data coming from actual building science.

The trick is that this can vary based on your location and your material choices. Take some time to read up on the basics of vapor barriers.

The quick summary is that we want to control where water vapor can enter and exit a wall, roof, or floor. Controlling this in the right place is all about where the moisture is coming from and which side warm moist air can come into contact with. When warm moisture comes into contact with a cool surface, it results in water condensing onto that surface. This can lead to mold, which obviously, we don’t want.

In general, you want to put your vapor barrier on the warm side of the insulation, but that’s where it can be complicated. For very cold climates or very hot climates, it’s pretty straight forward. If you live in a place like I do (North Carolina), it can be very hot in the summers and pretty cold in the winters, and we have a lot of humidity.

Step 6: Install Based On Manufacturer’s Directions

Install Based On Manufacturer’s Directions

There is a lot of science that goes into today’s insulation, so getting the details are critical to it performing they way it was designed to work. Luckily, many manufacturers have realized the better job they do of teaching people on correct installation, the happier customers are. Happier customers will buy more of their product.

That means that most insulation manufacturers are willing to help you with questions and often have a lot of good resources about installation for free. Follow them closely and ask a lot of questions!

Insulating Different Parts Of Your Tiny House

Insulating Different Parts Of Your Tiny House

By and large, insulating your roof, walls, and floors is a pretty similar process. We frame out each of these in 16 inch on center framing (or 24 inch on center if you’re doing advanced framing). There are also some special notes about how to do each that I wanted to include as well.

Tiny House Roof Insulation

Tiny House Roof Insulation

The insulation in your roof is a big deal because heat rises, so it’s a major location for heat loss. That’s why code typically stipulates a much higher requirement for insulation, usually around R-30. The height of a tiny house is a critical dimension because we can only build so tall.

My recommendation is to frame your roof with 2×6 trusses which will give you 5.5 inches of space to insulate. Fill that with spray foam and you’ll have an R-30+ roof.

Tiny House Wall Insulation

Tiny House Wall Insulation
Your walls are pretty straight forward, with one major exception: slumping of insulation. Because the stud bays are vertical, your insulation is going to want to slide down to the bottom of the wall cavity. This is bad because insulation needs to completely fill the void and keep its loft to be effective.

Manufacturers know this can be a major point of failure for batt insulation, so they’ve devised several ways to prevent this. Typically they add in fibers or chemicals to maintain insulation loft, and include backings that can be affixed to the studs to hold up the insulation. The installation instructions include details to help prevent this, too.

Whatever your insulation option, pay special attention to installation instructions and choose options that are known to keep their loft for a long time to prevent insulation slump down the road.

Tiny House Floor Insulation

Tiny House Floor Insulation

Insulating the floor of your tiny house is a critical area, as I find that tiny houses often have cold floors. The trailer of your tiny house on wheels will allow for cold air to flow beneath it. Add to that that there is a ton of thermal bridging happening in a tiny house through the floor, and you can see why this is an area that needs a lot of attention when it comes to insulating.

Because it’s so close to the ground, my suggestion is to frame this with treated lumber and choose an insulation that handles moisture very well. Foam board is a good option here, with any gaps sealed by Great Stuff foam.

Insulated Skirting For Your Tiny House

Insulated Skirting For Your Tiny House

As I mentioned above, a lot of tiny houses have cold floors. To help with this, you might want to consider installing insulated skirting for your tiny house on wheels. This creates a warm pocket of air underneath your tiny house trailer and reduces wind from flowing underneath, which carries your heat away.

The downside to this is that you’re making an ideal place for bugs, animals and mold to make a home. You’ll want to make sure it’s vented in such a way that air can flow through, but animals can’t get in.

I’d also suggest clearing the ground down to dirt and laying out a plastic sheet directly on top of the dirt to keep moisture from rising from it. Clearing the space of leaves and other organic matter will keep the bugs at bay. And if you have some gravel laid out with plastic sheeting on top, you’ll have even fewer issues with bugs and animals. Keeping it totally clear also allows you to inspect the space easily and easily spot any nests being built.

The skirting you build can be a good-looking façade that matches your walls or a nice contrasting color. I’d build this with a treated exterior grade plywood, seal it with a waterproof coating, and then apply a foam board insulation to the back of it. I’d also apply a flashing to the bottom edge of the plywood and insulation because it will be in contact with the ground.

It’s best to have the point where it touches the ground to be a few inches of gravel to allow for water drainage away from the materials. Be sure to grade your ground around your house to have water flow away from the house, too.

Tiny House Insulation Options